Sunday, September 1, 2013

Till Death Do Us Part...or Not. The Affair Clause, True Love, and Christian Marriage

What is marriage? Is it a contract, a mutual agreement to mutual benefit? A finding of one's other half, one's soulmate, the love of one's life?

I was scarred for life, watching "Spanglish" as a 14 yr old. Its a story about an immigrant from Mexico, who comes to nanny for a wealthy American family (2 kids and a grandma, Dad is a chef, Mom is obsessed with health and exercise).

Never show this at some self-proclaimed "Youth Retreat."
Trust me, it will just scar the kids....
The Dad is frustrated with the Mom's constant nagging of the kids to lose weight, her obsessions, her insensitivity to her kids, and her general selfishness.
In the course of the movie, the Dad starts having feelings for the nanny who lovingly takes care of his kids.
 He even complains to the nanny about his wife. But what am I saying? Ofcourse it was all so sweet and nice and wistful, because goshdarnit, he just didn't have grounds to divorce his selfish wife.

(Sidenote, so everything in me was screaming here, a somewhat clueless foreign single-mom poor working woman struggling with English and her employer...yeah definitely a power differential there...But even sweeping that under the rug, it stinks. And here's why.)

Then his wife had an affair, and amid sadness....oh the glee. I felt it, the subtle glee. The 'get out of jail free' card. The freedom to now pursue that true love of your life....

It was the glee that disturbed me. Even if it were subtle and small amid crushing grief (I really can't remember what the ratios were, as I was in and out at that point, it was so bad). Even the smallest amount of relief, relief that now you have reason to love someone else (someone a lot kinder and sweeter and nicer)---mixed in whatever sorrow or betrayal he felt, totally smelled 'off'. Something was horribly, horribly wrong.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable and does not count up wrongdoing, it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.   

I never really got the second part. The first part made sense "does not count up wrongdoing", we all keep lists in our minds, of what someone's done to hurt us. Holding on to it in pain or wrath. But why would we rejoice at being hurt? Here is an example, because it finally gives us the right to say "Alright, this really was it, you crossed the big red line, I'm out"

So that glee was disturbing. Really disturbing. But even taking that glee out, there still is more wrong with this.

It didn't hit home to me until watching an episode of Downtown Abbey.
Anna and Mr. Bates, the happy couple

Mr. Bates has an estranged marriage to Vera, a woman who the show assures us, has not been faithful to him. And then there's pretty little sensible Anna.
And they fall in love!
And his first wife stank anyway, plus she's estranged anyhow.
And then Mr. Bates and Anna get engaged!
And his first wife who stank anyhow kills herself. Oh no! Now everyone thinks Mr. Bates did it? And Anna, in a heroic act of love, marries him just before he's jailed, so that she can be his next of kin at the trial. And they have a quick little wedding, in which she vows to love him forever till death do them part. And they wake up happily after their wedding night, in love. And then he gets hauled off to jail.
I think we are all supposed to be thinking how sweet it is, and about how unconditionally she loves him and all.

I was roaring mad. Ok, here, no glee. But still.

Vera may have cheated on him, and been a total flake, and killed herself. But she was still his wife. And he's happily got engaged to the cuter, nicer, moral-er, kinder girl. And when she killed herself, now a great barrier has thrown itself against True Love, but True Love shall prevail.

Till death do us part.

Unless you screw up and cheat on me, then I'm out.


I've always hated how unpoetically the world explained marriage.
A contract of mutual benefit, of mutual emotional feedback (I'm in love with you, you're in love with me), of financial, sexual, friendship benefit. The anti-marriage types mocked it for that.

You say its so holy and special, but really, its all a deal. He gives her social status/income/backrubs, she gives him sex/babies/clean house/cute armcandy.

No no! (Some) Feminists cry, they are equals now, the patrimony has passed. They balance things, with their 2 careers and their mutual respect and mutual sexual benefit. It's so mutual and rational and chosen!

But that's still a contract. A better organized one, but still, its a contract.  My end of the deal, your end of the deal. You hold up your end, I'll hold up mine. We both benefit.

No no! The romantics cry, they are IN LOVE. They love each other. Its love that is so important, and beautiful, and makes the world work. Love will climb the highest mountain. Walk 10,000  miles to be the man who falls down at your door....

But its still a contract (albeit an implicit one). They're in love. Its easy to sacrifice for someone you are in love with. In love-ness passes. I have heard women say "I had to leave x, we weren't in love anymore".  To still maintain the now-dead union would be 'living a lie'. So it still is about give and take, profit and loss. He's in love with her, she's in love with him. If one side dries up, we either get romantic comedies about rekindling the fire (and thus justify the union) or we get a divorce, and find a new person the real 'love of your life' that kindles the right emotions, the true soul-mate whom you were really meant to be with forever....

If marriage is a contract, a contract where each person supplies their bit, and if the other party doesn't cut it as promised, well its over. And we are free to look for the real love of our lives...

It boils down to profit and loss. You give your bit, I'll give mine. Marriage may talk about love, but it's really love for self. If self isn't loved right by the other, than the other is toast. Love is selfish, is Darwinian, is about propagation of the genes and ego-stroking. Its all about feeling fulfilled, getting your half of the pie. Its no better than cohabiting or anything else that people want. Its a social construct.


We say, its not just about getting your half of the pie. It's about dying to yourself. It's about God making two one flesh. It's about God using this other person to refine and purify you and make you holy. It's sacramental. It's till death do us part. It's about being companions on the road to the New Jerusalem. Its holy, its beautiful, its something big and irrevocable and ordained by God. We have our wedding services, with Scripture readings and prayers and eternal vows before God, swearing before witnesses to love "Till death do us part."

But then there's divorce.

I have heard some Christians say that a husband's refusal to get a job qualifies as "financial abandonment" and the wife is free to get a divorce and remarry. I have heard some Christians argue that if a husband looks at porn, his wife is free to divorce and remarry. I have heard some Christians argue, that if we look back and realize that one of the parties didn't REALLY mean it, then we are free to say the marriage never happened, and divorce and remarry....

But I'm going to put those all aside for now, as the empty justifications that they are.

What about the 'affair clause', the one exception in the New Testament? I have yet to meet a church that denied the validity of that escape hatch, that loophole.

Adultery is a betrayal of the deepest kind. I am not at all surprised it often ends in vengeful spouses and murder. I totally get that.

 And I can see a case made for separation.

But for remarriage? The nevermind-it-doesn't-count-anymore, he's had sex with someone else, feel free to find a better man to marry, to love, and to have sex with....

And Christian marriage can be tainted. It still has such higher standards than the world's definition of marriage. She still has to love him if he's insane or poor or immature, and she no longer has feelings for him. But then, it's still a contract. If one party commits sexual sin, then it dissolves. Feel free to move on. It doesn't count anymore.
The affair clause boils down to "don't worry, he had grounds for a divorce", he had every right to move on. We can be happy that Mr Bates and Anna found true love.

If we're being honest with ourselves, we should then swear "Till death (or adultery) do us part"....

Because swearing "till death do us part", swearing the irrevocable promise of self sacrificial love is saying marriage is more than a contract. It's saying marriage is something holy and irrevocable and permanent. But with the affair clause, its only irrevocable and permanent if you hold up your end of the deal (not committing adultery). If the other breaks it, then it dissolves, you 'have a right' to move on with someone else, its over.

Yes, Matthew 5 is in the Bible.
“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

But so is Ephesians 5.
 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

The Bible tells a tale, of how a Holy God loved an unholy people. He saved them, he purified them, put them in a land flowing with milk and honey. And he made a covenant with them. A contract. They were to have no other gods, and He was to be their God. They would be His people, and He would be their God.
And they betrayed him. And they went after other gods. And they forgot Him, wanted nothing to do with Him. And they sacrificed their sons and daughters to demons.
They had broken the covenant. They had dissolved the contract. And now, all that was left was the punishment they were due.
And He came. He came to the land He had given them. And found his lost Bride, who had betrayed Him. And He took her place, he took the punishment. And died for her.
And He bound himself to her in a new covenant, a covenant sealed with His blood. And he carries her and purifies her, till the day that he brings her home, clean, pure, spotless of all her betrayals, holy and beautiful at the great wedding feast of the Lamb.

That is how Christ loved the church. That is how we are to love one another. That is what marriage is was designed to mirror, this great and holy mystery of Christ's love for His bride.


  1. yup, even as a kid, I always felt there was something so nauseating about the "glee" factor. Somehow, it felt even worse than the adultery. Rejoicing in someone else's shame is just so...low.

    Also, any marriage-as-a-contract = prostitution, in one form or another.

  2. Okay, so I don't think I'd go so far as to say contract marriage and prostitution are equal. Because, they aren't.
    There's something really off about contractual love, but atleast its intended to be long term, and reciprical, and all that. At least on the wedding day. Prostitution never has any illusions, any hope for love or any of that.

  3. I guess you are right. I am sorry for being so harsh in my earlier comment. I guess all human love is "contractual" in a way, because we never quite attain the unconditional love of God. But we should try for it as hard as we can. I hate it when people settle for contractual love, it's such a copout, and so depressing. :-/